Evaluating the risk of epidemic thunderstorm asthma : lessons from Australia

Campbell, Sharon L. and Fox-Hughes, Paul D. and Jones, Penelope J. and Remenyi, Tomas A. and Chappell, Kate and White, Christopher J. and Johnston, Fay H. (2019) Evaluating the risk of epidemic thunderstorm asthma : lessons from Australia. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16 (5). 837. ISSN 1660-4601

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    Epidemic thunderstorm asthma (ETA) is an emerging public health threat in Australia, highlighted by the 2016 event in Melbourne, Victoria, that overwhelmed health services and caused loss of life. However, there is limited understanding of the regional variations in risk. We evaluated the public health risk of ETA in the nearby state of Tasmania by quantifying the frequency of potential ETA episodes and applying a standardized natural disaster risk assessment framework. Using a case–control approach, we analyzed emergency presentations in Tasmania’s public hospitals from 2002 to 2017. Cases were defined as days when asthma presentations exceeded four standard deviations from the mean, and controls as days when asthma presentations were less than one standard deviation from the mean. Four controls were randomly selected for each case. Independently, a meteorologist identified the dates of potential high-risk thunderstorm events. No case days coincided with thunderstorms during the study period. ETA was assessed as a very low risk to the Tasmanian population, with these findings informing risk prioritization and resource allocation. This approach may be scaled and applied in other settings to determine local ETA risk. Furthermore, the identification of hazards using this method allows for critical analysis of existing public health systems.